Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
“The world will be saved and remade by the dreamers.”
I think it is safe to see that Empire of Storms was probably the most anticipated YA novel of 2016. I know it was for me. When I finally got my hands on a copy, returning to this familiar universe felt like sitting down for coffee with an old friend. There were times I laughed, cried, gasped and shook my head in fear, awe … and disappointment.
The novel picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of Queen of Shadows: Aelin and her gang is traipsing through Terrasen, Elide is searching for her, Manon is contending with the fallout from Kaltain’s sacrifice, Dorian is struggling in his new position as king and Lorcan is hunting for the remaining Wyrdkeys.
(warning: mild spoilers)
The characters have always been the strongest element in the Throne of Glass series and most of them really shined in Empire of Storms. Sarah somehow always finds a way to shock me in every novel she writes, and this time it was for the best. The characters I thought were adequate in the other novels, now became my favourites in Empire of Storms. And the characters I absolutely hated in the other novels, now became my favourites in this book. For example, I really disliked Lorcan in Queen of Shadows. I found him rude, mean and stagnant (although that could be because we experienced him through Aelin and Rowan’s eyes). In Empire of Storms, however, he quickly became one of the best. His character development progressed perfectly and realistically. He has a love interest in Empire of Storms, which I was very wary about when it was introduced. But the more the story advanced and the further his character developed, the more I began to love them as a couple. I adore binary couples and this relationship is one that I am particularly rooting for.
Elide quickly became another cherished character of mine: she has this inner strength that is almost impossible not to be impressed by. Her childhood is just gut-wrenching to read and the fact that she survived and is still able to smile makes me love her even more. As for Manon – I loved Manon in the other novels, but in this book I fell in love with her. She is a goddess amongst mere humans (not actually, this is just how much I love her). There is nothing that woman can do that doesn’t make me proud and simultaneously pump my fist in the air in support. She is the biggest badass and another great example of fantastic character development. What she goes through, and what she discovers, no one will see coming – no one. It was an amazing inclusion to her character and personality. I have a lot of book boyfriends, but I think Manon is my first book girlfriend.
Aedion has always been a beloved character of mine but he did slightly irk me in this novel. I have been waiting a long time to see his reunion with his father, the Fae warrior Gavriel, and was saddened when Aedion treats him terribly by yelling at him and then ignoring him. I understand why he’s upset at his father, but I feel like he should put himself in Gavriel’s shoes. What would he have done if he was carranam with Aelin, the way Gavriel is with Maeve? The carranam bond is super strong and you can’t blame Gavriel for honouring it. If Aedion had the same relationship with Aelin, he would have done exactly as his father did. In fact, he does. He frequently jumps to Aelin’s aide and hates on anyone who disrespects her. So I think it was incredibly hypocritical of him to be angry at Gavriel for supporting Maeve, when Aedion is doing the exact same thing with Aelin.
I was, however, thrilled to learn that Aedion is bisexual. I have noticed a greater inclusion of LGBTI characters in Throne of Glass through Aedion, the new character Darrow, Aelin’s uncle Orlon, and Rowan’s cousin. However, these are all secondary characters (and sometimes barely that). I am thoroughly sick of LGBTI characters pushed to the sidelines or the background of a novel; they are simply thrown in here and there so a book can be labelled as ‘diverse’ (and don’t even get me started over the fact that almost all of the characters are white). Considering how many couples there are in Aelin’s squad, you’d think that just one of them could be an LGBTI pairing. Aedion makes brief mention of a male commander in the Bane who he frequently had sexual relations with, and I hope that this character is introduced in book 6 because I have to say I am not feeling Aedion and Lysandra’s budding relationship. It does not feel realistic to me; rather, it seems like Sarah is trying too hard to create ships for her fans. Not every character needs to be in a relationship. I mean, are they or are they not in the middle of a war? Who has time for relationships when a creature from another dimension is trying to conquer their continent?
I might be saying some potentially traitorous things here, so please, no one hate on me, but I was pretty much annoyed with Aelin the entirety of Empire of Storms. I thought she acted very immaturely in her inability to trust her court and the ways she behaved. Come on, Aelin. You’re a queen; you need to act like one. It seems like she is still acting like an assassin, like Celaena, too used to working on her own and doing things her way. I’m sorry, but no. She has responsibilities now and people depending on her. She can’t broker secret agreements behind her court’s back anymore; she needs to actively include them in the decision-making. I know that Aelin acting covertly is for the reader’s sake so we are surprised by the massive reveal, but there are other ways Sarah could have written such scenes and to be honest, the constant surprises were sloppy and got dry very quickly. There were simply too many scenes of Aelin popping up and saying “Surprise, look what I secretly did to save the day with no one knowing about it!” that it’s almost becoming a cliché. (I get it, though; Sarah must be strained from penning two massive novels a year now – major respect to her for being able to do that).
In my opinion, Aelin has to stop acting like an errant child and start behaving like a queen. It was only during the concluding chapters of the novel did she finally begin acting like she should, even though Sarah again reverts to her old cliché of Aelin negotiating secret deals (though at least Lysandra was included this time). I don’t know, maybe it’s my inner history geek rearing her head and trying to fit real-life royal responsibilities on a fictional queen, but it’s how I feel. To quote enchantology, Aelin’s version of being a queen is essentially bossing people around and threatening to kill people. It’s childish and aggravating.
Another character I was irritated with was Rowan, which surprised me. If you had told me a month ago that I would be sick of Rowan and Aelin and would prefer reading a scene about Lorcan of all people, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s what happened. Rowan’s personality was all over the place in Empire of Storms and if he acted like a territorial male one more time, I was going to scream. The totality of his and Aelin’s relationship in Empire of Storms consisted of them having sex and making googly eyes at each other in front of other people, with Rowan ‘protecting’ her here and there thrown in for something different. I never thought I would see the day were I would enjoy the secondary characters over a protagonist, but it’s finally occurred. Essentially, Rowan and Aelin bored me: I don’t know if it’s because they’re finally together, or if their relationship could no longer develop beyond what I mentioned above, but I was incredibly disappointed with their characters. At least I still have Lorcan.
I had an issue with one more character: Dorian. I absolutely adore Dorian and nothing will ever change that (unless he starts acting like Aelin), but I felt as if he was really disconnected from the story. He was there, to be sure, but his scenes felt half-thought out and in the larger group scenes, I occasionally forget he was even there, until he said something. I can’t decide whether this is a case of having too many character storylines intertwining or if it is because Dorian doesn’t actually have a part to play in the larger plot of Empire of Storms. Also, I will briefly mention that I was astonished that Chaol was not in the novel at all, not even one scene. And honestly, it didn’t even feel like he was missed (Dorian mentioned him like twice).
Now that I have released my frustration with some of the characters, I can finally move onto the plot. Admittedly, the story was slow but I’ve always enjoyed novels like that. although we also have to remember the sheer effort it takes to have all of the protagonists’ stories finally intertwine. Sarah has been setting this up since Heir of Fire, so while the plot of Empire of Storms took a while to develop, it was quite thrilling to see all our beloved characters together in the same scene. There were also several battle scenes which were epic to experience, although, I do have to admit I felt let down by the very end of the novel. It basically concluded the same way A Court of Mist and Fury did. In fact, there were a lot of similarities between EoS and ACOMAF, especially with the Fae. That being said, I did enjoy Aelin calling in her old debts – that was surprising, exciting and saddening to read.
Sarah, as I have always said, is a master storyteller. In Empire of Storms, we finally discover the myriad of secrets we’ve all wanted to know since Throne of Glass. I did cry a lot when we learn the truth as well as the history behind Erawan and the upcoming war. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but just remember that nothing is coincidental and everything is part of a larger plan. Every character is important to the story and have been destined. Sarah has cleverly set up everything, which makes me wonder just how big book 6 is going to be: Sarah still has a lot to get through, not including the final battle between Erawan and Aelin. I wonder how she is going to fit everything in. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if she comes out soon and says she’s actually adding one more book to the series. I also have this terrible feeling that someone is going to die in the next novel and I am thoroughly panicking at who it could possibly be.
I was not impressed by Sarah’s writing style, which disappointed me because I have always loved the beautiful way she writes. In this book, her writing felt very elementary and almost like I was reading a fanfiction of Throne of Glass as opposed to an actual novel. She relied heavily on epithets and clichés, which resulted in awkward phrasing. It was not as sophisticated as it usually was. And the sex scenes! Sarah knows how to write a beautiful sex scene, but in Empire of Storms I was not feeling it. Minor spoiler: the first time Aelin and Rowan have sex, which I was particularly looking forward to reading, was awkward and just strange. They have sex on the beach, with waves crashing over them, and the whole time I was just grimacing because all I could imagine was sand getting stuck in their private body parts, and then I pictured a massive wave coming from nowhere and sweeping them away. I simultaneously cringed and laughed throughout that scene. Not romantic at all.
Essentially, this book was very touch and go. There were times I loved it and times I wanted to throw it against the wall in annoyance. Mainly, I just felt disappointed. I was riding a high after I finished it, but once I settled down and thought about it for a few days, I realised how unsatisfactory the book actually was. Originally I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads; two days later I dropped it down to 4 stars. Now, it’s dropping again to 3.5. I can’t review this book based on my love of the series – I have to be honest and base it on facts. I really hope book 6 (and ACOTAR 3) ends on a high note or I will be devastated.